I arrived to Mandalay in the middle of the night. I was surprised to discover that one taxidriver and the "bag carrier" were standing outside my compartment a long time before the train stopped. I didn't ask them how they managed that. I suppose that poverty makes people creative. The taxi- car was a piece of junk without lights or windows and with broken doors. But it brought me to guesthouse where my dear chinese backpacker friend and guardian angel Fu allready made all arrangements. As allways had he allready thoroughly maped out our sightseeing. I was very greatful for that. After two sleepless nights I was simply too exhausted.
Mandalay is this kind of hellish city you immediately want to leave: smelly, noisy, dirty, extremly polluted and with no charm at all. It has one million inhabitants. Since 1990's the city has been undergoing an economic boom. The money fueling this boom is generated by three trades: rubies, jade and heroin.
For three following days we were climbing innumerable stairs to different old temples, monasteries and ancient cities in and around Mandalay, gliding in the slow boat on Irrawaddy river, travel on the horsecart, treashaws, longtailboat and oxcart taxi.
At every tourist attraction had our passports been registered. In this way the authorities can follow your movements in the country. At guesthouses and everywere alls you allways have to report where are you going and you are not allowed in after 10 PM. In guesthouses and hotels you are required to pay in dollars. The government obviously needs currency. Electricity in Myanmar is just sporadic and so is the hot water. The government gives and cuts it off as it pleased. Demonstration of power, I suppose.
My three favorite sights:
U Bein's teak footbridge leading across the Taunghthaman Lake in Amarapura ancient city. (see photoalbum) It is 1300yd long and 200 years old. Some say that the bridge was named for a muslim servant of the king who built the bridge.
Sandamuni Paya (inside Mandalay) features a cluster of slender whitewashed stupas. It was built as a memorial to prince Kanaung on the spot where he was killed. Around the stupa lies a collection of 1774 marble slabs inscribed with commentaries on the Tripitaka (Buddhist canon). It gives you either a feeling of soaring in the blue sky with white cranes or gliding on the blue sea amongst hundreds of white sailboats. I felt happy and inspired there. (see photoalbum)
Hsinbyume Paya is unusual stupa in the ancient city of Mingun. The legend says that it was constructed in memory of the king Bagyidaw's senior wife, the Hsinbyume princess. The seven whitewashed wavy terrasses around the stupa represent the seven mountain ranges around Mt Meru (the mountain that stands at the centre of the universe). see photoalbum.
Inle Lake next. See you there...